Friday, June 09, 2006

Ranting, Or A Real Threat?

James Howard Kunstler (“The Geography of Nowhere,” “Home From Nowhere,” and the newly published, “The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century”) and New Urbanists have a mutual admiration society, so he’s almost always a speaker at the annual Congress of the New Urbanism. Usually he’s the most entertaining one.

Here are a few excerpts from his talk, “The Post-Carbon Society: An Overview,” at the most recent CNU in Providence. It’s based on my notes, so it isn’t a complete transcript, and in most places I’ve paraphrased because I’m not confident of the precise accuracy of the quotes. If it’s in quote marks, it’s exactly as he said it:

People defend conventional suburbia by saying it’s OK because people like it. They choose it. “But it’s going to be taken off the menu.”

He loves to talk about American delusions. One, he said, is the belief that it’s possible to get something for nothing. The other he dubbed the phenomenon of “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.”

“The leading religion in America is the worship of unearned riches,” he said.

In other words, he thinks Americans are clueless about what we will need to do if – he’d say when – the energy crisis really hits us.

He described going to Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, in a large big-box office building. It was decked out like a preschool, he said, with 27-year-old millionaires “dressed like skateboard rats,” exemplifying a pattern of “childishness at the very highest levels of technological enterprise.” He gave them his talk predicting the end of the petroleum age. He said their response was: “Dude. We’ve got technology.”

But they’re confusing “technology” with “energy,” he said. The long emergency – the economic breakdown from a loss of cheap, carbon-based energy sources – is going to create winners and losers and the lower middle class will be the losers, he said. Revolution, even fascism, might be the possible results of the chaos from the economic failure.

He predicted a “meltdown of hallucinated wealth.”

The intelligent response to the threat, he said, is the down-scaling of America: food production, commerce and trade, schooling and "the way we inhabit the terrain of America.”

His prediction: Big cities will contract and redensify at their centers. Waterfronts will once again become economic engines.

I don’t always agree with what Kunstler writes and says, but if you get a chance to hear him, take it. He’s an excellent, compelling lecturer. And his “Geography of Nowhere” and “Home from Nowhere” are accessible, finely written and excellently researched books about American planning, cities and suburbia.


Rick said...


It is very sad that you are idolizing this guy. Talk about someone who makes a living on scare tactics. He's a real classy "scholar" in your opinion I suppose.

From Kuntsler's website that Mary linked. (Note: I blocked out the profanity.)

" What the f*ck do President Bush and Treasury Secretary-designate "Hank" Paulson mean when they say the economy is "growing?" That we are building more Pizza Huts in Phoenix? That vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continue to increase? That developers have bulldozed another 1500 acres in Cherokee County, Georgia, to install more commuter tract housing? We'd better prepare ourselves to replace the concept "economic growth" with the different concept "economic activity." We're currently interpreting the "health" of our economy on the model of late-stage cancer.

Or if you are looking for more - check out this link on his site.

The Clusterf*ck Nation Chronicle

Anonymous said...

Interesting we site the man runs. After reading pages of his derision of American's wasteful use of automobiles and reosurces, I cam across this gem:

" Happenstance led me to take a trip on the Washington DC beltway in a rent-a-car last week, when some putz graduate student from the U. of Maryland failed to pick me up at the airport."

Why would that be interesting? Well, because it relegates him to the long line of people who are happy to tell others that they must restrain their use of certain low efficiency transportation, but apparently find themselves a bit too important to take their own advice.

He advocates for rail transportaion. live in New York, from which there is fast and efficient rail service to DC, and he flys to get there! Perhaps even more startling, in someone who appears goes on at length about energy usage, he apparently values HIS convenience above his principles. Having someone drive out to the airport to pick him up, and one would assume later drive him backto the airport and then return hom, uses at least twice as much fuel as simply renting the car would in the first place. After all, getting fromthe airport to his destination in a rental car takes one tround trip; being driven by someone else who lives in the city requires two.

Some folks may just ove him, I supose. I have little time for the people who are happy to hector others about energy usage choices when they themselves find it too much trouble to live with those choices.

Anonymous said...

What's new?

'Do as I say, not as I do' is a core belief of ultra-liberalism.

When Mary Newsom permanently sheds her car and just takes the bus, and then forks over $400K for a 1,100 sq ft uptown condo I would take her more seriously.

Her article this weekend about developers helping to pay for commuter rail to Davidson is comical.

Apprarently developers are all evil scum until they are ponying up dough for her pet projects, then they are salt of the Earth.

These people are just bitter, envious, failures who hate to see others make it. They deride the rich, the suburbs, growth, WalMart, SUVs, cul de sacs, or any of the other cookie-cutter symbols of capitalism.

Research Will Tell The Tale said...

Being "sheltered I had no idea who Kuntsler was or what he stood for. Some "Google" internet research and... Oh My God. Why would anyone or group want to be linked to this mish mash of extremists pessimism. If, if he has a message or point it quickly becomes lost in elitist intellectial snobbery that still has more to do with Chicken Little's "The Sky Is Falling", than serious discussion.

Research this role model for New Urbanists and Mary and gain valuable insight into both!!!

Research Will Tell The Tale said...

Being "sheltered I had no idea who Kuntsler was or what he stood for. Some "Google" internet research and... Oh My God. Why would anyone or group want to be linked to this mish mash of extremists pessimism. If, if he has a message or point it quickly becomes lost in elitist intellectial snobbery that still has more to do with Chicken Little's "The Sky Is Falling", than serious discussion.

Research this role model for New Urbanists and Mary and gain valuable insight into both!!!

Anonymous said...

sorry to duplicate.

Anonymous said...

The only way there's going to be an end to the petroleum age any time soon is if lefties like Kunsler manage to continue to artificially restrict supply. There's enough out there to last for centuries.

Or, possibly, if someone rewrites the law of physics to make hydrogen fuel workable. But I don't see that one happening, either.

Andy said...

Mary: Labelling this guy as "medieval" is complimentary. "Primitive" is too innocent a term.

Kunstler is endorsing fascism "But it’s going to be taken off the menu", and "the down-scaling of America" -- who is going to take things off of our menu and how? What means are going to be used to down-scale us?"

And then he has the nerve to warn us about fascism? Talk about the kettle calling the pot black!

Anonymous said...

Mary is bold to speak of Kunstler. Kunstler is a on the extreme of "Peak Oil" theorists but he is important. His basic premise is we have to invest more in trains and develop small town neighborhood style living arrangements. His premise is exactly right. Big neighborhoods off of two lane roads are wrong, and everything he states he is on the mark. He may seem crass but he has merit.

I love the fact Ms. Newsome is bold enough to talk about him. It makes me excited and Mary broadens her appeal by citing him. I see her in a personable light for doing it.

She distances herself from the Main Stream Media by bringing it up and is more real. Our society has issues and she is helping awaken these ideals with regular folks. Keep it up Mary you are a literary babe in my book! Work for change because we need lots of it.

Anonymous said...

I've read "The Long Emergency" and two of Kunstler's other books and and have given his stuff a great deal of thought as I try to formulate my own opinions on these matters. I agree with the commentators that his politics and his ranting often get in the way of the message; much of "The Long Emergency" is written with way too gleeful a tone as Kunstler contemplates a collapse of civilization that (if he is right) means tremendous hardship and suffering for millions. TLE is also studded with broad-brush generalizations and statements of breathtaking bias that undermine Kunstler's larger point.

And his blogs are even worse -- ill considered and obnoxious, written by a man who clearly just loves to hear the sound of his own bitching.

So set all that aside and try to focus on the core of what he is saying: That there is strong scientific and geological evidence to indicate that at our current rate of oil consumption we have already passed the peak of production and are on the downside of the consumption curve. That if India and China continue their demand ramp-up unabated and the US does not get its demand under control, we are going to run out of oil sooner rather than later (in the next couple of decades), and that even before we run out there is sure to be severe disruption in our lives.

Two things that I had not thought much about that I took from Kunstler and have really shaped my thinking about the future: 1. Look at how dependent in almost every way we are on cheap oil, from giant agribusiness and the crop surpluses it produces, to weekend airplane trips, to the Amazon package that was so cheaply delivered to your door in just two days to all the many and varied ways in which we rely on cheap, petroleum-based plastics.

2. The extent to which almost every proposed "alternative energy solution" depends on an oil-based infrastructure for its viability. Kunstler makes a compelling case (to this nonscientist) that none of the proposed alternatives provide anywhere near the energy return to energy invested that has made oil such a magical substance for our world. Kunstler makes a strong argument that nearly all these energy alternatives are mirages, with the exception of nuclear, and that even that will be very hard to sustain post-oil.

My advice to those who are annoyed by Kunstler (other than synpathy) is to try to filter out all the ranting and the politics that give his writing such an annoying and moralizing tone and just grapple with the implications for American society as it is presently constructed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:19:

He's important all right. Apparently too important to take trains or conserve fuel himself. Perhpas you are excited by and lend credence to what amount to elitists who place themselves above the pricnicples they espouse; I find them generally to be a wasste of time.

Anonymous said...

Kunstler has a reputation for being anti-human. He literally hates mankind and eagerly awaits the fall of civilization due to Peak Oil.

While he may be correct in predicting an energy crisis, the sheer joy he appears to take in it is just disgusting.

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